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Birr scoring blitzkrieg leaves Seir Kieran's shell- shocked



PLAYING last year's Offaly county hurling final almost four months into the new season may have presented a curious backdrop to yesterday's clash in Birr, but it didn't distort the indisputable fact that Birr are one of the best sides in the country.

Indeed, even as Birr celebrated their fifth county title success in ten years, there was a sense of deep regret among fans and squad alike that they still weren't involved in the chase for the AIB All-Ireland club championship.

Birr lost to Castletown (Laois) in the Leinster championship last October, at a time when they were caught up in a hectic domestic programme.

"We had to play a lot of games in a short space of time back then and we got caught. It's all in the past now, but when you see how they played today, it makes you wonder how we might have done against the teams still left in the All-Ireland club championship," said Birr manager, Pat Joe Whelahan, as he watched captain, Gary Cahill, collect the Sean Robbins Cup.

The truth is that the bookies would find plenty of takers if they offered even money against Birr beating any of the three surviving All-Ireland challengers, Athenry (Galway), Sixmilebridge (Clare) or Graigue-Ballycallan (Kilkenny). Birr were quite awesome yesterday. They had sprinted out of sight at the end of the first quarter, by which time they held a 10-point lead, 1-8 to 0-1.

Their touch was perfect, their timing electric, while their ability to find each other with long, accurate deliveries reduced Seir Kieran to bewildered observers. And we're not talking rookies here. Seir Kieran, who won three of the last five Offaly county titles, are a hugely experienced side, anchored by such crafty generals as Joe, Johnny, Billy and Kieran Dooley, Mick and Eugene Coughlan and Kevin Kinahan.

It counted for nothing yesterday because Birr were operating at such a high level that the Clareen brigade simply couldn't apply a restraining hand. The Birr attack had so much speed and trickery that huge leaks appeared quickly in the Seir Kieran defence. And even when they plugged one, a new and bigger one appeared elsewhere.

Gary and Rory Hanniffy, Liam Power, Simon Whelahan, Declan Pilkington and 'Man of the Match,' Paul Molloy helped themselves to some wonderful scores, while Johnny Pilkington was a busy provider from midfield. Kieran Dooley and Joe Guinan battled solidly in the Seir Kieran defence, but it was always a case of doing one job while several others needed attention.

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Molloy whipped in Birr's first goal in the sixth minute after Simon Whelahan had filleted the Clareen defence and Rory Hanniffy added the second in the 25th minute.

Referee, Noel Flynn, blew the half-time whistle more than two minutes early, but there were no complaints because by then it was clear to even the most partisan Seir Kieran fans in the 5,500 crowd that it was very much a lost cause.

Birr led by 2-10 to 0-2 at half-time and won the second half by 1-11 to 1-7. That might suggest that Seir Kieran made a real contest of the second half, but, in reality, it was a matter of Birr reducing their intensity levels. Billy Dooley scored a fine solo goal in the 42nd minute and brother, Johnny, added some points from frees and play but, by then, it was all about trying to achieve respectability.

It was all so very different to the group clash between the sides last September which ended in a draw. This time, Birr were so much better that Seir Kieran were left with no option, but to accept the inevitable from an awful long way out.

Gary Hanniffy scored Birr's third goal in the 53rd minute, by which stage many of the neutral spectators had already dispersed. The Birr fans stayed on to enjoy another great success, while the Clareen folk hung around out of loyalty to a team which has brought them so much enjoyment in the 1990s.

"Not our day. We never got into it at all. Good luck to Birr they were great today. There isn't a whole lot more to be said about it," remarked Joe Dooley. Indeed.

Man-of-the-match: Paul Molloy.

SCORERS Birr: G Hanniffy 1-5 (1f), P Molloy 1-4, R Hanniffy 1-2, S Whelahan 0-4 (4f), L Power 0-3, D Pilkington 0-2, S Browne 0-1. Seir Kieran: Johnny Dooley 0-5 (3f), B Dooley 1-1, Joe Dooley 0-2 (one '65'), M Coughlan 0-1.

BIRR B Mullins; G Cahill, J Errity, D Franks; JP O'Meara, Brian Whelahan, N Claffey; J Pilkington, Barry Whelahan; D Pilkington, L Power, R Hanniffy; P Molloy, G Hanniffy, S Whelahan. Subs: S Browne for Barry Whelahan (40), B Hennessy for Franks (57), P Murphy for S Whelahan (57), G Doorley for O'Meara (59), C Hanniffy for Power (59).

SEIR KIERAN L Coughlan; P Scully, K Kinahan, P Connors; D Murphy, K Dooley, J Guinan; F O'Neill, Joe Dooley; Johnny Dooley, M Coughlan, B Dooley; G Connors, E Coughlan, S Dooley.

Subs: D Coffey for O'Neill (44), M Mulrooney for G Connor (58)

REF N Flynn (Kilcormac-Killoughy).

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